County reserves federal cash for libraries

Jackson County will tuck almost $11 million into reserves to pay for libraries during the next few years thanks to a one-year extension of a federal safety net program.

County commissioners approved a revised general fund budget Wednesday that reflects a fiscal boost from the federal government's Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act. The county expects to receive $23 million in about a month.

Almost $8 million from the act, known as Public Law 106-393, must be set aside to pay for specific purposes such as roads, search and rescue or clearing brush in the forests. Commissioners decided to spend the money over several years rather than all at once.

Of the remaining $15 million, the county had already budgeted $2 million that would have been its share of logging receipts on federal forest land if the act had not been renewed.

To reopen libraries for the remainder of this fiscal year, county officials decided to use $2.3 million from the remaining $13 million to pay for the operation of the libraries by a private firm, Library Systems and Services LLC of Maryland. They expect to have enough money to operate libraries at roughly half the hours and half the previous budget for two and one-half to three years with reserves.

The annual budget for libraries with the outsourcing contract and fixed costs for maintenance and utilities amounts to $4.3 million.

With the addition of the new federal money, the county's reserves rose to $38 million, and the county's general fund budget is $81 million.

Harvey Bragg, deputy county administrator, said the federal money has greatly improved the county's financial outlook compared to what it was six months ago when libraries closed.

"There is still the potential to receive more funding," he said.

Congress is debating whether to extend the county timber payments program for another four years. The amount Jackson County might receive could be much less under a new formula to divide the money among other states.

Congress originally approved the act to help counties that were dependent on logging on federal lands as they recovered from declines in timber harvests because of environmental restrictions.

Jackson County officials and those in other counties want the federal government to either continue the replacement funding or open up federal lands for larger timber harvests.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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